A Survival Cheatsheet to China's Apps

Updated: Sep 22, 2020

If you’re in China without a VPN, you could face some trouble using the installed apps on your phone. Without further ado, here’s a cheatsheet of apps to download for a hassle-free travel to China.

Baidu (百度): Like how Google is for the rest of the world, Baidu is the main search engine in China. English search terms are also recognized.

WeChat (微信) / QQ: The equivalent of WhatsApp, Line Messenger or Kakao. Everyone has WeChat and/or QQ to communicate on the go. WeChat is also used to browse menus, order food at restaurants and foot your bill with WeChat Pay, which is also tagged to your account.

Dianping (大众点评): This is the Yelp of China. Particularly useful if you're lost and hungry in the city. Though written in Chinese, you could set your current location and voila, recommendations for food, shopping, tourist attractions and more show up.

Didi (滴滴): Need a lift? Didi is your go-to app. Just like Uber and other ride services, add your credit card details, your current location for pick up and arrival and you're good to go. Works for foreign credit cards too.

Autonavi (高德) / Baidu Maps (百度地图): Both are the local maps apps which recognize English search terms, which makes for convenient travel, navigating your way around.

Tik Tok (抖音) : Possibly one of the most used social media apps today, Tik Tok is owned by ByteDance and was the most downloaded app in the United States in October 2018. The app allows short-form video creation and is available in 38 languages. Pretty entertaining if you enjoy watching video snippets just for laughs.

Little Red Book (小红书): This is combination of both Pinterest, in terms of organization and Instagram, in terms of content. Most Chinese influencers use this space as a means to do product reviews and tutorials. But not only, it serves as a great source of recommendation for travel destinations, eateries and other places, similar to Instagram.

Tencent (腾讯) / iQiyi (爱奇艺) / bilibili / Mango TV (芒果电视) / Youku (优酷): Similar to YouTube and other OTT video platforms like Netflix, Viu, iFlix etc., apparently in China, there’s no one leading the video platform space. Firstly, each platform is known for specific types of content (i.e. iQiyi is well known for dramas) and secondly, the competition for exclusives and originals is rather aggressive domestically.

QQ Music / Xiami (虾米) / NetEase (网易): Just like the video streaming space, music is somewhat similar. There's no monopoly as one service might have an artist's music exclusively and vice versa. They do recommendations as well as Spotify, but for a largely Asian catalog. Lyrics, translation and pinyin are also smartly integrated within the platform.

Weibo (微博): Similar to Facebook, users, including celebrities create personalized pages with pictures, videos, news and anything relevant for their personal brand, connecting with friends and fans.

If you do venture on these apps, you're bound to find a ton of information. While overwhelming, it's a surefire way to learn about the Chinese culture, especially if you read and write Mandarin. But through these apps, you'll also discover how the average Chinese city dweller lives today in the fast growing country.

Images are screenshots directly snapped from the apps.